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The Buzz on Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids

By Dr. Matt Narrett, Chief Medical Officer, Erickson Senior Living
February 13, 2023

In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began developing standards for safe and effective over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. It took five years to become official, and although the system is far from perfect, seniors now have access to hearing aids without a prescription.

The greater effects

Mild to moderate hearing loss affects about 50% of people in their 70s and nearly 75% of people in their 80s. Impaired hearing is more than an inconvenience, as studies show that hearing loss is associated with depression, anxiety, fatigue, social isolation, and an increased risk of falls.

We recently learned that having a mild hearing impairment doubles your risk of developing dementia, and moderate impairment triples your risk. In fact, The Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention, and Care specifies untreated hearing loss as one of the top modifiable risk factors for dementia.

Despite this widespread hearing loss, a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that only 18.5% of adults over the age of 70 actually own and use hearing aids. Cost is usually cited as the main barrier, with other prohibiting factors, including lack of access to health care services and not liking how hearing aids look.

Consider these factors

Now that hearing aids are available over the counter, the race to woo customers has begun. Competition and innovation among hearing aid companies are underway, which should lead to better technologies, sleeker designs, and lower costs. Experts caution, however, that like most technology-related pricing trends, it may take months - if not years - for hearing aids to be considered affordable by many.

OTC hearing aids are specifically designed for people with self-perceived mild to moderate hearing loss. With mild to moderate impairment, you may notice that speech or other sounds seem muffled, you can't hear well in noisy environments, you turn the TV or radio's volume higher than other people, or you often ask people to repeat themselves.

On the other hand, signs that your hearing loss is too severe to benefit from an OTC hearing aid include trouble hearing conversations in quiet settings and difficulty hearing loud sounds from cars and trucks.

Trial and error

The FDA has set standards for package labeling on hearing aids. Please read all labels' details carefully to understand usage and cautions. Also, finding the best hearing aid may take some time and effort. You might need to try a few different types, so only purchase devices that allow a risk-free trial period or have a guaranteed return policy. Search online for the Hearing Loss Association of America's tip sheet on OTC hearing aids.

If you are unsure about whether you'd benefit from purchasing an OTC hearing aid, consult your physician, who may refer you to an audiologist. If you're referred, explain your impairment and concerns to the audiologist - they will provide guidance as to which one may be best, if one is needed. Please don't neglect your hearing, as it is vital to your overall well-being and independence.

Health and well-being are at the forefront of the active and engaged lifestyle at Erickson Senior Living communities. To learn more about Erickson Senior Living, request a free brochure.